By Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

 “Soccer was a life-saver for me, because of residential schools,” says Tla’amin elder John Louie. 

“In the schools we were never told, ‘I love you’ or acknowledged or any stuff like that, so I played sports. I was a really fast runner and good at soccer,” says John. When he came home from school, he said that soccer was a very popular sport in Tla’amin, and he wanted to play it. 

John says that throughout his life he had played on several different soccer teams. He played for both Brooks and Max Cameron School teams as well as being a part of Tla’amin’s Braves soccer team and many others. 

“The Braves team is what created other soccer teams for our Nation. 

“You had to be really good to get on it, I was a fast runner so I had been a part of the Braves,” says John. After the Braves, he says that there were about four other men’s soccer teams and about 2 women’s soccer teams. “The Braves did lots of travelling for tournaments and we even played against semi-pro teams like UBC, New Westminster Blues, Washington teams, and many more.” 

“The Braves were a small team, but we were a very good team. We carried a lot of pride.” 

The Braves had even travelled to the BC Championships. John explains that one year they had won a game 11-4. “Over the years our team became quite good friends with the semi-pro teams because they learned that we were actually good at the game, and they were nicer to play against,” says John. He also explains that there was always a lot of team spirit, they’d always be practising by running. “Even from when I was in Residential schools, I was always running,” John says. 

“Most of the Tla’amin soccer players were loggers, so after work we’d go down to our field in front of the church and we’d only change our shoes. We’d play soccer until dark, then we’d all go running before going home. Some would run to Scuttle Bay, others would run to Sliammon Lake. 

“The field was full of holes and puddles so that helped us learn how to control the ball,” says John. “Coaches on teams were also great, they’d tell us which side of the field to play on, things like that. 

“When we’d have a tournament somewhere, we’d go logging, and we’d sell that wood to folks or the mill, that money is what we used for accommodations for when we travelled to tournaments.” 

The Braves team played against First Nations teams and Non-First Nations soccer teams in BC. John explains that between First Nations, there was a rivalry. “When we were playing non-First Nations teams, we experienced a bit of racism and the players would be more rough in-game, but the fans were always more vocal.” 

“One game we played against the New Westminster Blues and the players were kind of making fun of us, they called us kids and played a bit rough. Their coach had warned them not to take us as a joke, but they didn’t listen,” says John. 

“An elder told our team not to listen to them, or respond to any of their comments; we were there to play soccer, and that’s what we did.

 “We ended up winning 4-1, proving them wrong. Their coach was saying things like ‘I warned you guys!’ We let them score a point, too, because we felt bad,” John laughs. “After the game we shook their hands. What that teaching moment from the elder was that you should always be good to people, even when playing the game.” 

John says that the semi-pro teams and the Braves had much nicer games after they knew that the Braves team was good. The soccer players from the Braves team would often use the river or the lake. John said that at one point there had been a swimming pool above the bridge in Tla’amin as well. “Everyone had their own ways of preparing for a game or tournament.” 

John explains that the Braves team had about 31 different trophies they had won from over the team’s years. “I wish that the youth we have now would participate in soccer, it is a great sport,” he says.

This item is reprinted with permission from qathet Living, Tla’amin, British Columbia.

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